Narcissistic mortification is “the primitive terror of self dissolution, triggered by the sudden exposure of one’s sense of a defective self … it is death by embarrassment“. Narcissistic mortification is a term first used by Sigmund Freud in his last book, Moses and Monotheism, with respect to early injuries to the ego/self. The concept has been widely employed in ego psychology and also contributed to the roots of self psychology.
When narcissistic mortification is experienced for the first time, it may be defined as a sudden loss of control over external or internal reality, or both. This produces strong emotions of terror while at the same time narcissistic libido (also known as ego-libido) or destrudo is built up. Narcissistic libido or ego-libido is the concentration of libido on the self. Destrudo is the opposite of libido and is the impulse to destroy oneself and everything associated with oneself.
Physical sensations and psychological perceptions
An individual’s experience of mortification may be accompanied by both physical and psychological sensations. Physical sensations such as: burning, painful tingling over the body, pain in the chest that slowly expands and spreads throughout the torso, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, sweating, blanching, coldness and numbness can be experienced by the individual suffering from mortification. The psychological sensations described are feeling shocked, exposed, and humiliated. Descriptions of this experience can be, for example: “It feels like I won’t survive” and “I have the absolute conviction that he or she hates me and it’s my fault”. These sensations are always followed by shock, although they may have happened on various occasions, they also prompt the need for the individual suffering to do something both internally and externally, to effect a positive self-image in the eyes of their narcissistic object. Narcissistic mortification is extreme in its intensity, global nature, and its lack of perspective, causing the anxiety associated with it to become traumatic.
Normal versus pathological
In Eidelberg’s view, a normal individual would usually be able to avoid being overwhelmed by internal needs because they recognize these urges in time to bring about their partial discharge. However, Eidelberg does not view occasional outbursts of temper as a sign of disorder. An individual experiencing pathological narcissistic mortification is prone to become fixated on infantile objects, resulting in an infantile form of discharge. He or she cannot be satisfied by the partial discharge of this energy, which takes place on an unconscious level, and this in turn interferes with their well-being. According to Eidelberg, the denial of an infantile narcissistic mortification can be responsible for many defensive mechanisms.